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Legalization of marijuana likely to escalate poverty problem
November 1st, 2016
By Bishop William J. Justice


While some may think that the impacts of the marijuana legalization are fairly benign, the evidence to the contrary is well documented and compelling. Obvious effects include an increase in impaired driving, a rise in use among youth, and the negative effect marijuana has on learning and intelligence.


However, more attention needs to be paid to the impacts Prop 64 would have on California’s large homeless and poor populations. Catholic teaching is clear that life and physical health are precious gifts that must be protected. It is also very clear that we must all work together to promote the common good. This is especially true for our poorer neighborhoods where residents have less power to protect their own interests.


Communities which already face high unemployment rates and reduced educational opportunities will see those challenges quickly increased with the legalization of marijuana.


We only need to look at Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2014, to see why. Many cities are now looking to enact ordinances to limit the number of growers because operations have predominately been locating in low-income neighborhoods. A May article in Politico documented how well-funded marijuana operations snatch up cheap business real estate, locking out any chance of other establishments to set up shop. And what do you think has happened to crime in those areas? One town, Pueblo, now has the highest murder rate in the nation.


As usage increases, poor communities – as well as other economic groups – will also experience more failed drug tests, missed days at work or school, and even loss of employment. Those with the financial strength to weather what is hopefully a temporary setback, will do so. Those with fewer resources have a much tougher time overcoming the financial ramification of even a temporary loss of income.


Published reports have also documented a sharp increase in the Colorado homeless populations. One region reported a 40 percent increase in their shelter population. Many jobless and homeless “marijuana migrants” have traveled from outside of the state so they can obtain marijuana at a cheaper cost and continue its use without the fear of legal repercussions. These people should be steered toward opportunities for hope and prosperity instead of making it easier to find ways to accommodate their addiction.


The threat of an increase in the need for homeless services is great enough that it has prompted Los Angeles County Supervisors to approve a ballot measure that would impose a 10 percent gross tax on all marijuana businesses to help fund the County’s homeless assistance programs. If local governments are already anticipating an increase in homeless assistance and trying to proactively intercept the fallout of Prop 64, should we not re-examine the best course of action that would prevent the need for increased services?


This Election Day, I urge you to serve our brothers and sisters in underprivileged neighborhoods, and vote no on Proposition 64. The legalized use of recreational marijuana will create circumstances that will no doubt create economic winners and losers, but the impoverished will be some of the victims of this measure. Instead, the entrenched systemic problems that will result in poor communities will be extremely difficult to overcome.


Bishop Justice is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco.


From November 3, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.






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